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The Football Lawyer: Qatar 2022 compensation claims and the problem with quotas

John Blavo
qatar stadium 300x225 The Football Lawyer: Qatar 2022 compensation claims and the problem with quotas

An artist's impression of one of the proposed stadiums that will be built in Qatar

Just as the dust finally begins to settle after the meeting of the Fifa Executive Committee, so the legal wheels begin to turn in earnest.  It now looks more likely than not that the 2022 World Cup will still take place in Qatar, albeit in the winter months.  Such a move has worrying financial implications, even for the resource-rich Gulf state.  For all of the confident talk that the other bidders, most notably Australia, do not have a strong claim for “just and fair compensation” as a result of their failed bids, the reality is that Fifa and Qatar cannot predict what the court might rule.

The other issue, mentioned summarily during the committee meeting, may prove a far greater reputational headache for Fifa and Qatar: and it might end up costing a fair amount, too.  Following the Guardian’s recent report on the appalling living and working conditions of many migrant workers in Qatar, there will inevitably have been a rapid assessment of who would be liable for what in the event of any lawsuit.  Unfortunately for Qatar’s government, such is the structure of construction contracts that the buck will ultimately lie with them.  (The Nepalese workers do not have a direct agreement with the state, but they can sue the sub-contractors, who can then pass on the cost to the contractors, whose performance is in turn guaranteed by the government.)  Questions are also being asked, and rightly so, about how closely Fifascrutinised the inspection reports before awarding the tournament: if those inspections were inadequate, as has been widely alleged, then Fifa may find itself on the hook too.

A quota may be only one part of the answer

Another legal issue has drifted into football’s spotlight, as the FA’s chairman Greg Dyke looks to address the falling number of English footballers at the peak of the domestic game.  One way to reverse this decline is the introduction of a quota system, but such an approach would need to be carefully thought through.  Any quota would of course be subject to the EU legislation which governs freedom of movement.  The clearest opportunity for amendment here could be to tighten up the definition of who constitutes a “home-grown” player for the purposes of the Premier League rules.

A quick explanation.  At the moment, the Premier League stipulates that, in the 25-man squad that each club submits at the start of the season, there must be at least eight “home-grown” players.  To fall within that category, a footballer must be “one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Welsh Football Association for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).”

The obvious problem here for the England team is that a “home-grown” player could simply be someone who signs from a foreign club aged, say, 16 or 17, then comes to a Premier League club for three years of a well-resourced finishing school, then graduates into the first-team squad as a home-grown player.  This is good news for Premier League clubs, since it allows them to fulfil their criteria: however, it doesn’t currently help the national side all that much.

This situation has arisen in part because the Premier League, ultimately, is a business, and as such it will make it as easy as possible for its clubs to recruit the best possible talent to build that brand.  Making the quota requirements more stringent will only be possible if the Premier League plays ball.  Interestingly, however, it has shown a somewhat tentative response to the new commission that the FA has formed to address this issue, turning down the opportunity to join the eight-person team.

Ultimately, a quota would be only one part of the solution.  The true challenge – or, let’s be positive, the true opportunity – is to set in place a programme over a couple of decades, in the style of France’s Clairefontaine, where English talent is patiently nurtured from the grassroots upwards.  Players like Everton’s Ross Barkley and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere are showing what talent can be developed with the correct coaching, and (incidentally) the foreign managers at those clubs – Roberto Martinez at Goodison Park, and Arsene Wenger at the Emirates – are proving instrumental in their progress.  New rules will only go so far to help the national team: in the long term, as ever in football, the two watchwords are infrastructure and investment.

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